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Mac Game Review: Sid Meier’s Civilization IV

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Civilization 4 is not a fun game. It's soul-suckingly addictive and devilishly clever, but not per se "a fun time." When you're managing 15-plus cities, waging war on a different continent and trying to increase your production of oil so that you can better your relations with oil-less Africa, "fun" is not the word that comes to mind.

Probably the most genuine fun you'll have is in the beginning of the game. The map is wide open and the thrill of setting up your empire, choosing the best, most feature laden plots of ground for new cities is still there. An updated display and information panel helps you with this task by telling you the defense bonus, resource yield and ownership of the tile in question. Later in the game you'll be able to check whether each tile is generating commerce, food, and production with a quick glance.

Meeting new civilizations for the first time also holds a certain appeal. When you discover a new civilization, or they discover you, you'll be greeted by a humorous popup window and an introductory phrase reminiscent of their culture. The Asian Civs will politely tell you to just leave them alone while the more warlike Civs such as Spain make it clear that gifts will be needed if you wish to avoid a war.

This is something that you may very well want to do. While still in the pre-game, so to speak, of building your empire and researching technologies like the Wheel and Alphabet, wars can help expand your territory without much cost, as your neighbors will likely be unprepared militarily.

After mid-game and later though, wars are much more as you would expect an um, war, to be. You'll have to halt your scientific research or civic projects in cities and focus exclusively on producing infantry, artillery, or bombers and planes. Also expect to lose at least one city or two when waging a good war.

Due to tweaks in the combat mechanics of Civ. 4, your units will receive upgrade points after successfully defeating an enemy, allowing them to be upgraded for better attack strength or defensive qualities. It's a good idea, but could have used more time in the drawing room. Units often don't survive long in the field, which makes the constant upgrading feel at times pointless and null.

New players will find Civ. 4 easy to pick up within an hour or two. To really delve into it's features you'll have to spend a great deal of time playing through the game on various difficulty settings, and with different civilizations and continent types.

Veteran players who have already done this on earlier versions of Civilization will immediately notice small tweaks in things like Corruption, which no longer causes cities far from the capitol to have a reduction in the amount of resources available to you. This allows you to assign cities roles, having one, or two, producing military units, etc.

While subtle tweaks in the games engine have made every element of Civ. 4 a bit smoother, more satisfying experience, the graphics have not followed trend as well.

Actually, that's not true. With the graphics set on High, things look pretty darn snazzy. The units are shown as groups of people instead of just a solitary figure, the camera zooms in for close-ups during combat, and the textures for mountains, water and ice look great.

But you won't be playing on High. Unless you have the newest Mac chock full of RAM, the Medium and Low setting are more likely. In my tests, I could play Civ. 4 with graphics set at Medium relatively okay on my PowerMac G5 Dual 2.0 GHz with 2 GB of RAM.

I had to dial it down to Low to make it a truly seamless and smooth experience though. On my MacBook with 2.0 GHz Core Duo and 1GB of Ram, Low was again the only playable setting. And even on that, occasional frame stuttering and lagging was present.

Another flaw is the end-game. After playing through the oh-so-fun beginning, and addictive yet cruelly challenging middle, the end of every game seems to be a blur. It always feels premature after playing through so many hours of bargaining, hoarding over resources and fighting over choice land. However, this is more of a wish to see the game become longer than a real criticism.

All in all, Civ. 4 is a game that will devour more hours of your life than you'll feel comfortable with. Plus, most of the time you'll find yourself frustrated over allies trade decisions, the lack of resources on your land or about being invaded unprepared. So should you buy it? Hell yes!

Civilization 4 is rated E (Everyone) for Violence by the ESRB. This game can also be found on: PC.

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About Cameron Graham

  • http://spamreaper.org/frankie/ Frankie

    Describing your CPU and RAM specs in great detail is USELESS when discussing playable 3D graphics settings. You may as well tell us the color of your mouse pad. It’s all about GPU, which you completely neglect.

    MacBook (non-Pro) has the sucktacular Intel GMA950. May as well give up on that one.

    What’s in your G5? Probably something that was mid-range a few years ago (aka low end now) like Radeon 9600 or GeForce 6600LE.

  • Cameron Graham

    Hi Frankie,

    Sorry for the late reply but you are absolutely right. I should have included the GPU specs in the review. The CPU and RAM do play heavily into games but GPU is primary.

    My G5 has a Radeon 9600 like you mentioned which although is a few years old is not terribly antiquated.

    My one issue with your statement is what you said about the MacBook’s GMA950. It certainly isn’t top of the line like a NVIDIA Quadro FX 4500 and won’t be able to play games such as “Doom 3″ or other huge 1st person shooters, but it’s a competent machine. The graphics card is tied into the RAM, so with 1-2 GBs of RAM, the machine runs games such as “World of Warcraft” and “Half-Life” quite smooth.

    Thanks for the comment, and I’ll be adding in the GPU specs to the review shortly.

  • http://www.comcst.net natan

    i have been reading some reviews and i am getting some conflicting stories. I have a macbook with a 2.0 GHz and 1 gig of ram it has a gma 950 from intel. will the game run well?

  • http://www.breakingwindows.com/ Ken Edwards

    I have a G5, the dual 2.5 Ghz water cooled one, with 3 GB of RAM. This game brings it to its knees.

    It will run on your MacBook, but you will have to dial down all the graphics options. YMMV of course, but I don’t know how enjoyable the game would be on your system.

    How big is the video card in your MacBook? That may well be the biggest bottle neck.

    Operating System: Mac OS X 10.3.9 or later
    CPU Processor: PowerPC G5 or Intel chipset
    CPU Speed: 1.8 GHz or faster
    Memory: 512 MB or higher
    Hard Disk Space: 3.5 GB free disk space
    Video Card (ATI): Radeon 9600 or better
    Video Card (NVidia): GeForce FX 5200 or better
    Video Memory (VRam): 64 MB or higher
    Multiplayer: Internet (TCP/IP) and LAN (TCP/IP) play supported. Internet play requires broadband connection.
    Media Required: DVD Drive

    Supported Video cards:
    NVIDIA GeForce 5200, 6600, 6800, 7800
    ATI Radeon 9600, 9650, 9700, 9800, X600, X800, X850, X1600

    Recommended System Requirements:
    Operating System: Mac OS X 10.4.6 or later
    CPU Processor: PowerPC G5 or Intel chipset
    CPU Speed: 2.0 GHz or faster
    Video RAM: 128 MB

  • Duncan

    What bothers me more than the poor performance is how much better the game runs on significantly inferior PCs. My 15″ MacBook Pro barely runs the game on the lowest settings, while my friend’s 4 year old PC (I don’t remember the specs, but I do remember that they were far worse than mine) runs the game with no hitches on at least medium settings.

  • Ridolph

    I’m curious – many reviews say it runs terribly on a MacBook. How does the PC version run under Boot Camp or Parallels on a MacBook?

  • V

    It works perfectly smooth on Boot Camp
    But even with Parallels 3 (which lets you use some of the 3D acceleration) it does not work.

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